Ask the Right Questions. Get the Right Answers.

I have a cringe worthy sales story to share with you. My mother likes to record a particular television program to watch at a later time. For many years she did this using VHS tapes. Well, her VCR broke down so she went along to the electronics store and asked to get a replacement. I’m sure you can guess where this is going!

She explained that she needed to record her program onto a video tape and so the salesman found the only VCR he could on a dusty, unused shelf somewhere and sold it to her. Presumably thinking he had provided her great value because he had given her what she asked for. She brought it home, only to discover that it didn’t connect to her TV and she was unable to record her show as normal. Even the TV Technology had moved on.

She explained this to me in some frustration and I am literally smacking my head in my own frustration because this salesman didn’t take the time to understand the real problem. As you all know, DVR technology had completely replaced VHS recordings. Much better than recording onto VHS tapes, right? So much more convenience, quality, and ultimately, value. So why did the salesman sell her a dusty, old VCR?  He didn’t ask the right questions to discover what her real need was.

Ask More Questions

I’ve been talking a lot about how important questions are for salespeople. And how good salespeople, the ones that have repeat clients, listen more and talk less. Because they are discovering the deep-seated issues that these clients may not even necessarily know they have and then, only then, are they helping to solve those problems.

I believe compelling questions are at the core of sales success.

After belief in your product of course! Remember Barbara Kornbluh?

What IS a Compelling Question?

When I coach clients on managing sales conversations, we talk a lot about these compelling questions. Open ended questions that make your prospect think in terms of their needs but answer in terms of your needs. The ones that help you get to what’s not being said. Here are some examples:

  • What price points do you need to fill that you aren’t currently?
  • What would make it easier for your customers to buy from you?
  • What is the customer feedback you hear most often?
  • What's stopping you from being the market leader?

Getting these questions right takes some thought on your part. And a lot of practice. Because you can’t really script sales conversations. You can plan them, but since you never really know what your prospect is going to tell you, you need to have practiced various outcomes to be able to successfully think on your feet and respond appropriately.

Don't Forget The Critical Questions of a Sales Conversation

Never leave these questions unasked if you want to manage your sales cycle length and success rate:

  • What is your budget?
  • When does your fiscal year end?
  • Who are the decision makers for this?
  • How are decisions are made?

You'd be amazed how many people miss this critical information and then wonder why their proposals aren't converting into business!

What About Closed Questions?

And you should always avoid closed questions. Until you shouldn’t.

Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas wrote an entire book called ‘Power Questions’. I may have read it with more interest than most! But I would certainly encourage anyone who has a leadership role in business or in the community to read it. There are some amazingly powerful and thought provoking questions outlined in the book that will help you be more successful in your role and in your life.

From a selling perspective, the book is absolute gold. (Ha! I just realized that the book jacket is actually gold in color!) But I bring your attention specifically to Chapter 12: No Gorilla Dust. It’s about the yes or no question. Which is most definitively a closed question; one of those I would normally counsel you to avoid.

Except when you’ve reached the end of your sales conversation and it’s time to ask for the business. In which case you need to ‘stop throwing gorilla dust’ and deploy your final closing question: Are you on board or not? Or some other variation that elicits the yes or no response that is now required.

Questions really are at the heart of selling. Use them well and you’ll be that most enviable salesperson: successful and well respected by customers and employers (creditors?) alike. So please, ASK MORE QUESTIONS!